Assignment 2 Course Learning Outcomes-Covered Demonstrate a solid understanding of the concepts

Assignment 2

Course Learning Outcomes-Covered

Demonstrate a solid understanding of the concepts and models for making strategies to face challenges and improve the performance of technology based enterprises. (Lo 1.2)

Assignment 2 Marks: 5

As per your textbook-

‘..Timing can be crucial – a technology that is adopted earlier than others may reap self-reinforcing advantages such as greater funds to invest in improving the technology, greater availability of complementary goods, and less customer uncertainty.’

‘Entrants are often divided into three categories: first movers (or pioneers), which are the first to sell in a new product or service category: early followers (also called early leaders), which are early to the market but not first, and late entrants, which enter the market when or after the product begins to penetrate the mass market.’

With the help of conceptual knowledge from Chapter 5 – Timing of Entry of your Textbook and research of your own, answer the following questions.

Question 1-Write a short note (200-250 words) on a successful and an unsuccessful example of each-

(a) First Mover (b) Early Follower (c) Late Entrant. (3 Marks)

Question 2- Does being a Frist Mover in a market always yield undisputedly beneficial results. (300 -500 words)

Support your answer with valid points from the Textbook and other references. (2 Marks)

NOTE: It is mandatory for the students to mention their references, sources and support each answer with at least 2 peer reviewed journal.

Directions:

All students are encouraged to use their own words.

Use Saudi Electronic University academic writing standards and APA style guidelines.

Use proper referencing (APA style) to reference, other styles will not be accepted.

Support your submission with course material concepts, principles, and theories from the textbook and at least two scholarly, peer-reviewed journal articles unless the assignment calls for more.

It is strongly encouraged that you submit all assignments into the safe assignment Originality Check prior to submitting it to your instructor for grading and review the grading rubric to understand how you will be graded for this assignment.[supanova_question]

Assignment 2 Course Learning Outcomes-Covered Demonstrate a solid understanding of the concepts

Assignment 2

Course Learning Outcomes-Covered

Demonstrate a solid understanding of the concepts and models for making strategies to face challenges and improve the performance of technology based enterprises. (Lo 1.2)

Assignment 2 Marks: 5

As per your textbook-

‘..Timing can be crucial – a technology that is adopted earlier than others may reap self-reinforcing advantages such as greater funds to invest in improving the technology, greater availability of complementary goods, and less customer uncertainty.’

‘Entrants are often divided into three categories: first movers (or pioneers), which are the first to sell in a new product or service category: early followers (also called early leaders), which are early to the market but not first, and late entrants, which enter the market when or after the product begins to penetrate the mass market.’

With the help of conceptual knowledge from Chapter 5 – Timing of Entry of your Textbook and research of your own, answer the following questions.

Question 1-Write a short note (200-250 words) on a successful and an unsuccessful example of each-

(a) First Mover (b) Early Follower (c) Late Entrant. (3 Marks)

Question 2- Does being a Frist Mover in a market always yield undisputedly beneficial results. (300 -500 words)

Support your answer with valid points from the Textbook and other references. (2 Marks)

NOTE: It is mandatory for the students to mention their references, sources and support each answer with at least 2 peer reviewed journal.

Directions:

All students are encouraged to use their own words.

Use Saudi Electronic University academic writing standards and APA style guidelines.

Use proper referencing (APA style) to reference, other styles will not be accepted.

Support your submission with course material concepts, principles, and theories from the textbook and at least two scholarly, peer-reviewed journal articles unless the assignment calls for more.

It is strongly encouraged that you submit all assignments into the safe assignment Originality Check prior to submitting it to your instructor for grading and review the grading rubric to understand how you will be graded for this assignment.[supanova_question]

Assignment 2 Course Learning Outcomes-Covered Demonstrate a solid understanding of the concepts

Assignment 2

Course Learning Outcomes-Covered

Demonstrate a solid understanding of the concepts and models for making strategies to face challenges and improve the performance of technology based enterprises. (Lo 1.2)

Assignment 2 Marks: 5

As per your textbook-

‘..Timing can be crucial – a technology that is adopted earlier than others may reap self-reinforcing advantages such as greater funds to invest in improving the technology, greater availability of complementary goods, and less customer uncertainty.’

‘Entrants are often divided into three categories: first movers (or pioneers), which are the first to sell in a new product or service category: early followers (also called early leaders), which are early to the market but not first, and late entrants, which enter the market when or after the product begins to penetrate the mass market.’

With the help of conceptual knowledge from Chapter 5 – Timing of Entry of your Textbook and research of your own, answer the following questions.

Question 1-Write a short note (200-250 words) on a successful and an unsuccessful example of each-

(a) First Mover (b) Early Follower (c) Late Entrant. (3 Marks)

Question 2- Does being a Frist Mover in a market always yield undisputedly beneficial results. (300 -500 words)

Support your answer with valid points from the Textbook and other references. (2 Marks)

NOTE: It is mandatory for the students to mention their references, sources and support each answer with at least 2 peer reviewed journal.

Directions:

All students are encouraged to use their own words.

Use Saudi Electronic University academic writing standards and APA style guidelines.

Use proper referencing (APA style) to reference, other styles will not be accepted.

Support your submission with course material concepts, principles, and theories from the textbook and at least two scholarly, peer-reviewed journal articles unless the assignment calls for more.

It is strongly encouraged that you submit all assignments into the safe assignment Originality Check prior to submitting it to your instructor for grading and review the grading rubric to understand how you will be graded for this assignment.[supanova_question]

Accommodating A Worker with Autism: A Call Centre Experience A Typical Day

Writing Assignment Help Accommodating A Worker with Autism: A Call Centre Experience

A Typical Day

Gwen hung up the phone and quickly hit the “Not Ready” button before another customer could come through to her. She felt anxious and wound up, worried about what the next call would be and concerned about whether she was projecting the appropriate friendly, helpful tone that was expected from call centre employees. She could not afford any more customer complaints about being “cold” and “robotic”. Right now she needed a couple of minutes to just breathe and recover from the previous call and log the details into the company’s technical support call management system. All of which would be much easier if she could just get away from the damn florescent lights and the incessant noise created by her colleagues on their phone calls in adjacent cubicles. The harsh, flickering illumination of the lights combined with the constant background chatter often made her feel as if she needed a quick escape by lunchtime. While many employees complained about the noisy, overly crowded work environment and small cubicles, Gwen’s autism made her especially sensitive to its most challenging elements. The brimmed cap and sound cancelling phone headset she wore helped a little, but it was still a very distracting workplace (see Appendix B for more detailed information on the signs and symptoms of autism).

Gwen found herself wishing yet again that there was a dark and quiet place she could retreat to for even a few minutes, but the break rooms and cafeteria were just as crowded and busy as the cubicle areas and she could only hide in the bathroom so often without engendering gossip or disciplinary attention for taking excessive breaks. As far as she knew, everyone in her workplace hated the mandatory policy requiring that supervisors monitor bathroom break frequency and duration. She had spoken to people who were especially inconvenienced because of medical issues. That said, the policy had been introduced because some workers had been wasting time chatting for 10-15 minutes in the bathroom on a regular basis, so Gwen understood why the company had instituted a rule. She usually appreciated rules but this one just did not work for her.

Unable to escape physically, Gwen tried to take comfort by focusing on the customer she had just helped, logging all the details in the system. They had been trying to create a new database table but had forgotten to clarify the parent-child relationship it had with another table. Since updates made in the “parent” table (for example a new sale) did not get reflected in the “child” table (for example, inventory) important data for their home business had not been calculated accurately in the reports that were generated. It was typical of the type of problem her company’s customers had since many of them were creating their own small databases using the software without the benefit of any programming experience.

Gwen, who had a degree in Information Systems and was a certified database administrator, had worked in technical support for 10 months. She usually found customer’s problems easy to solve. She relished that she could help people while also solving puzzles all day long. Over time Gwen had distinguished herself for her creativity and persistence, and would often find solutions to problems after others had given up and moved on. Her supervisor was very pleased that Gwen’s notes (which were used for important trend analysis and customer care purposes), were always detailed and comprehensive. Some Technical Support Representatives rushed their notes, leaving them half complete. She had received kudos for her meticulousness and was even held up as an example for other, newly hired Technical Support Representatives to emulate.

That praise did not stop her from being anxious when she faced a live, real-time caller. She was always worried that the next call would be the one she could not handle. She sometimes struggled to determine when the customer was finished talking and she should start talking. She also worried that she would not have time to think through her answer to present it correctly, or that she would misunderstand the customer and embarrass herself, or that she would overlook some emotional cue and offend someone. She was sometimes accused of rudeness for reasons that were not clear to her. Several of her colleagues said she should just “smile more often” and “be nicer”. They assured her that her smile would “show right through the phone line”. She noticed that they never said similar things to her male co-workers, some of whom could also be quite direct in their communication style. The men around her were more likely to be called “efficient” rather than “rude”, which annoyed her since it seemed unfair. Appropriate communication was an on-going struggle that had been made much worse with her recent promotion to Tier Two Technical Support Representative.

A First Job: The Early Days

Once she had completed college Gwen had been excited to enter the working world. She applied for many jobs and found the interview process very difficult. Some of the questions asked seemed strange or irrelevant and her answers never seemed to be quite what people expected. Despite these challenges she ultimately landed a technical support role in the call centre. At first she worked as a Tier One Technical Support Representative. The Tier One role was considered the primary entry point into the organization – new employees generally started there fully expecting future promotions. People who had previously started as Tier One Representatives were now well represented in senior marketing, sales, and research and development roles. The ability to grow her skills, develop, and get promoted was one of the main reasons that Gwen accepted the job there. She found the role very easy but somewhat boring. Her technical and problem-solving skills were often underutilized. Tier One Representatives consisted of first-line workers who handled the simplest issues, responding to customers in writing over e-mail and instant messaging. Issues ranged from lost passwords to help interpreting standard error messages. Tier one problems could usually be resolved in just a few minutes using standard cut and paste advice from a prepared script, although occasionally more complex issues would come up. Even so, interactions with customers tended to be brief, straight-forward, and done in written formats that allowed time to reflect and double-check details before sending. Most customers were reasonably well-behaved, polite, and happy to have their questions promptly answered.

Gwen excelled as a Tier One Representative. She was able to quickly and competently determine the nature of a customer’s issue and gave clear, unambiguous, step-by step directions to solve it that even the least tech-savvy customers found easy to follow. She did so even when there was not a pre-existing script. She was conscientious about logging calls, which enabled managers to identify patterns in support needs and improve the product.

Gwen also got along well with most of her co-workers, even though she sometimes felt kind of awkward since she was one of only four women on a support team that numbered almost sixty. Sometimes conversations stopped abruptly the moment she entered a room and she was not sure why. She suspected it had something to do with her gender since the other three women reported similar experiences. It seemed most likely that her male colleagues had just been talking privately about women or dating and did not want to be overheard so she tried not to worry about it. Once she had gone out of her comfort zone and agreed to go out with members of the team for drinks after work. She had been embarrassed, however, to discover that the bar of choice was Hooters, a restaurant chain whose main claim to fame was the extremely tiny, tight shirts worn by young and buxom waitresses to enhance their figures. The name of the restaurant itself was slang for breasts. Gwen did not think her co-workers had meant anything by their restaurant choice – it was simply the nearest and most conveniently located bar. Even so, after listening to a few of her colleagues’ comments on the “attributes” of the wait staff she felt uncomfortable, left, and never went out at night with the team again.

Despite these social difficulties, Gwen generally got along well with others. She liked how her colleagues would often ask her advice when they had a new technical issue they could not figure out. They frequently told her how much they appreciated her help. She also enjoyed the Star Wars trivia game that she played with Michael, David, and Sanjay – her most immediate neighbours in the cubicles. They would all quiz each other during those rare times that the phones lines were slow. Even so, there had been a few awkward moments. David had asked her on dates three times and each time she had been embarrassed and hesitant around him for days after saying “no”. And once she made a joke that accidentally hurt Sanjay’s feelings. She’d had to apologize and explain that she hadn’t meant to offend. Mostly, though, things were fine, except for one employee named George. George had once told her that he did not think she had much potential since “chicks don’t do real tech support”. Michael and Sanjay had overheard and laughed but David had told him to be quiet and the incident ended there. George discovered early on that Gwen disliked other people touching her food containers in the fridge and he now took great pleasure in teasing her. Once he had even left a chocolate fingerprint and a jam smile emoticon on the outside top of Gwen’s lunch container. Gwen had thrown the food out and gone hungry that day, which George found hilarious. Gwen suspected that her co-workers thought George was being a jerk but also thought her response was extreme and weird, but she just could not bring himself to eat the food. After that incident she had started bringing lunches that did not need to be refrigerated but George still found subtle ways to tease her now and then when nobody else was looking, especially at company events and meetings where food was served.

A Promotion and A Problem

Gwen performed so well as a Tier One Representative that within eight months she was promoted to Tier Two. The promotion was awarded competitively based on her performance score. The score was derived from the most recent four months of data and was a combination of her customer satisfaction ratings, incident close percentage (also known as a “solve rate”), and the most recent quarterly assessment by her immediate supervisor. The quarterly assessments addressed performance indicators such as logging calls, being on time and reliable, responding appropriately to constructive feedback, and not engaging in problematic behaviours.

The Tier Two Technical Support Representative role was different in some key ways. Most importantly, the majority of the interactions were conducted over the phone rather than by instant message and e-mail. This was because customers were directed to a Tier Two Representative when their issues were slightly more complex, required detailed investigation, and could not be readily resolved in just a couple of minutes using standardized advice. The performance management system changed slightly to reflect this focus. Tier One Representatives’ most important metrics were number of issues resolved per hour, customer satisfaction rate as measured through a three question online survey, and thoroughness of call logs. The Tier Two representative were responsible for all of the same things, but also had their technical solutions randomly audited by supervisors to assess their effectiveness and efficiency, which were scored on ten point scales. Their customers received satisfaction surveys with six questions instead of three. The original three questions, common to both Tier One and Tier Two, asked if a solution was provided quickly, clearly, and whether it was effective. The additional three questions asked about general communication skills, friendliness, and ability to teach the customer how to prevent similar problems in the future. As such, social skills were more important to obtaining a high customer satisfaction rating for Tier Two Representatives.

For the most part Gwen still found the technical questions themselves fairy straight-forward. She would often have to investigate a bit, as she had with the customer having the issues with the parent-child relationships in their tables, but she had more than enough expertise to handle it. What she found challenging was the switch from primarily written to primarily verbal interactions. This was especially challenging when combined with the length of the interactions (calls generally took 20-45 minutes to resolve), and the emotional state of the customers. These customers tended to be more agitated, concerned, and worried than those with simple problems. In some cases they were panicked, fearing critical loss of data. As a result they could be sarcastic, difficult, aggressive, and irrational at a much higher rate than Tier One customers.

The new customer and call profile taxed Gwen. She disliked being on the phone since it did not give her time to reflect on her responses. She found herself becoming stressed out, worried she would say the wrong thing in the moment. She also found the duration and intensity of the social interaction itself somewhat overwhelming. Gwen no longer had a quick break between customers every few minutes. Sometimes this made her very anxious and she began to stim by repetitively lining up loose change found around her desk by size and denomination (see Appendix B for more information on stimming). The stimming made her feel better and did not disrupt her work. After a week and a half in the new role she even brought a large can of spare change from home and kept it at her desk to help her relax. Gwen noticed that Michael seemed to get disturbed by the noise of the clinking coins. He never said anything directly to her, but he sighed much more often and seemed to need frequent breaks when Gwen was stimming. Gwen tried to lessen the time she spent arranging the coins, limiting it to when she felt very stressed, but she was still using the coins frequently. She switched to plastic coins from a children’s game that belonged to her niece. They did not clink together in the same manner as metal coins, but were still soothing. It worked well. Michael went back to his usual break schedule and the deep sighs stopped. Then George noticed her coins. George immediately started making fun of the habit and now, every time he saw Gwen sorting coins, he would point it out loudly and call her weird. He sometimes called other workers weird too, but he seemed to do it more frequently with Gwen. Unfortunately, the mockery just created anxiety that made Gwen feel a greater need to stim so both the teasing and the stimming became more and more frequent. Between her anxiety, the non-stop background noise common to all call centers, the annoying florescent lights, and her co-worker teasing her, Gwen sometimes felt that she was ready to burst. When that feeling came over her she needed a few moments away from the noise and bustle so she would often be reduced to hiding in a bathroom stall, trying desperately to clear her head.

The promotion also taxed Gwen because of the sarcasm and unclear or exaggerated statements that her new customer base was prone to making. Since she began working on Tier Two problems there had been many small incidents in which a customer said something that was misunderstood or taken inappropriately literally by Gwen. This was more likely to happen since, unlike her Tier One role, she did not have time to reflect carefully about any secondary or indirect messages that might be embedded in the communication. Most incidents were inconsequential but some caused complaints or delayed identification of problems. For example, there had been several minutes of confusion when one client reported that data was “jumping”, by which he meant disappearing from a given field. Gwen has been completely mystified by the use of the term “jumping”, picturing two dimensional data moving continuously up and down on the screen. One angry women had told Gwen that she would be better off if her computer was thrown out the window and it had only further enraged her when Gwen had calmly explained why that would not help with her reporting problems. One of the worst experiences had been when a man had told her that “she was so useless she should call her Mom and apologize for being born”, which was followed by “can I talk to a REAL expert now?”. She had absolutely no idea how to react.

Other Tier Two Technical Support Representatives also dealt with difficult, ambiguous, or inappropriate customers. Two of her female colleagues had male customers ask if they could “speak to a man, someone who knew what he was doing”. Gwen had seen both male and female co-workers reduced to tears by abusive clients! The behaviour of customers, and how to deal with it, was a frequent topic of conversation in the break rooms. Her colleagues seemed to have many creative ideas for how to respond, although not all of them could actually be used if one wanted to stay employed. Gwen was amazed by their creativity. To her it seemed as if they had been given some secret rulebook. There were exceptions, some colleagues had bad days and told her that they left work upset, angry, or feeling depressed and lost. Gwen seemed to feel that way more frequently though, and more persistently, at least as far as she could tell.

Performance Problems

The moments of feeling overwhelmed and the communication issues were starting to impact Gwen’s job performance. Customers were routinely surveyed about their technical support experiences. In the two months since her promotion Gwen went from a five-star customer service rating (out of six) to a three-star rating. Ironically call ticket closure records showed that she was actually more effective at solving the technical problems than many of her peers. Her customer service ratings, however, were being impacted by her communication blunders and awkward misunderstandings. The Tier Two customer satisfaction survey, with its increased focus on communication skills, magnified the impact of these lapses. Since Gwen knew she was an otherwise strong worker she decided to sit down with her boss Jamie to discuss moving forward. She had not previously revealed that she was autistic, concerned about how it might impact her job prospects. Now she decided to reveal and explain her diagnosis. She decided to ask how her autism could be accommodated such that she could serve customers well, meet the mandate of her new role, develop her communication skills, and still maintain positive mental health and well-being. (For general information on the types of accommodations available for people with autism please see Appendix B.) She thought she should also bring up George – without George Gwen felt that her working life would be less stressful and she would be better able to manage all the other challenges she faced.

After meeting with Gwen to discuss these issues, reviewing the situation and the company’s legislative responsibilities (see Appendix A-1 for Canada, A-2 for US), and reading up on autism (see Appendix B), Gwen’s manager sought to decide how to handle Gwen’s request for accommodation. “This isn’t like the other disabilities I have accommodated in the past”. Jamie mused to their HR specialist. “It’s not as simple as building a ramp or buying a Braille reader. Is it even possible to accommodate autism in a call center setting, especially for this role? If so, how specifically do we do it? Will devices help or is more needed? Are our policies getting in the way? If so, are those policies actually useful? Do they impact other employees besides Gwen, and if so, could helping Gwen reduce stress by adjusting our policies help everyone else too?” “That is all important to consider”, responded the HR Specialist. She then added that “customer service ratings are important, but Gwen has a rare talent for problem-solving and technical innovation. I think those skills are critical for the company and we don’t want to lose them. Maybe there is another way to think about the Tier Two role itself, a modification that could make it easier for Gwen?” “Interesting”, said Jamie, “I will need to think about that. In the meantime, what do I do about George?”

Appendix A

Canadian Legislative Requirements and Workplace Accommodation

Please note that this information reflects a Canadian (Ontario) legal environment, which is where the case took place. Very similar legislation exists in other jurisdictions. See Appendix A-2 if applying this case to a US context. Key issues in disability law that are relevant include the following: definitions of disability, the concept of “duty to reasonably accommodate”, and the criteria for undue hardship used to determine if an employer is required to provide a requested accommodation.

Definition of disability

A legal definition of disability is presented in section 10(1) of the Ontario Human Rights Code. It states that disability means:

Any degree of physical disability, infirmity, malformation, or disfigurement that is caused by bodily injury, birth defect or illness and, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, includes diabetes mellitus, epilepsy, a brain injury, any degree of paralysis, amputation, lack of physical coordination, blindness or visual impediment, deafness or hearing impediment, muteness or speech impediment, or physical reliance on a guide dog or other animal or on a wheelchair or other remedial appliance or device,

a condition of mental impairment or a developmental disability,

a learning disability, or a dysfunction in one or more of the processes involved in understanding or using symbols or spoken language,

a mental disorder, or

an injury or disability for which benefits were claimed or received under the insurance plan established under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997.

Duty to reasonably accommodate

The Canadian Human Rights Commission states that “duty to reasonably accommodate” means that an employer must take all reasonable measures to enable a disabled employee to keep working. In addition to physical accommodations and technical devices, employers can also be required to amend job responsibilities and performance appraisal criteria. Employers are not able to deny promotions based on inability to perform a job due to disability without proving undue hardship. In order to do this a detailed medical assessment would be required that proves an individual cannot complete essential operational requirements of the job. Secondary aspects of the job are less relevant as employers are expected to reconfigure or redistribute these tasks (Canadian Human Rights Commission, 2019).

Criteria for undue hardship

Alberta Dairy Pool versus the Alberta Human Rights Commission (1990, 2.S.C.R. 489) established the criteria for undue hardship used to determine if an employer is required to provide a requested accommodation. The conditions for undue hardship include the following:

Excessive expenses will be incurred

Disrupts existing collective agreements

Creates morale problems with other employees

Have highly interchangeable work force/facilities

Have a very small operation

Safety concerns

Creating morale problems with other employees is the most difficult criteria to justify and, as a result of case precedents occurring after the 1990 decision, is seldom accepted in courts. The common legal understanding that has developed since 1990 suggests that morale is only relevant if an accommodation significantly interferes with the rights of other employees (Smorang snd Gisser, 2019).

Appendix B: An Autism Primer

What is Autism?

Autism is formally defined in medical diagnostic manuals as a developmental disorder, although it is more popularly termed a sensory disorder. The term autism is used to describe a range of conditions that are characterized by difficulties interpreting social and emotional cues and responding to those cues in the manner expected by other people, repetitive thoughts or behaviours, and heightened sensitivity to stimuli such as noise and touch. Language and communication skills may also be impacted (Beardon, 2017). Lack of empathy is frequently cited as an autistic trait. This characterization is hotly disputed by many members of the autistic community (see, for example Bonnello, 2015) and by emerging evidence from cognitive psychology. Both suggest that some autistic people may in fact suffer from excessive levels of empathy that overwhelm them, but that the way they express and communicate that empathy is not well understood or recognized by others (Murray, 2018; Beardon, 2017). Other traits often associated with autism include the ability to focus intensively on tasks, persistence, being detail-oriented, and being extremely forthright and direct in communications. The type and severity of symptoms can vary widely.

Autism and Stimming

One of the more visible signs of autism is repetitive behaviours known as stimming. Stimming activities may include anything from arm flapping, rocking, pacing, repeating certain words or phrases many times or continuously, or using devices such as fidget spinners. People with autism often report being overwhelmed by what they perceive as an onslaught of everyday stimuli (sounds, smells, visual distractions, etc.). The feeling of being overwhelmed induces anxiety and panic. Stimming is a way of retaking control of the situation and calming oneself by focusing on something specific to tone down the “noise” created by other stimuli (Beardon, 2017; Bonnello, 2018). Many people with autism report finding stimming socially embarrassing but critical to their ability to cope with overwhelming situations. As such, the lack of understanding and social acceptability of stimming can be a much greater disruption in the workplace than the activity itself, although in some cases co-workers may find specific stimming behaviours distracting or noisy.

Functional Limitations and Outward Behaviours Associated with Autism

The functional limitations associated with autism are highly individual and may change over time as task assignments, communication requirements, and social needs evolve in the workplace. Many of the barriers experienced by workers with autism relate to social difficulties and are impacted by how they behave (which is within their control), but also how others respond to them (which is not within their control). Stimming is a good example of this reality – the exact same behaviour can be perceived as harmless or disruptive depending largely on co-worker attitudes.

People with autism may speak in a monotone or speak unusually quickly. This can be mistaken for a lack of emotion, however people with autism do experience the full range of emotions, they simply tend to express those emotions in ways that are not readily recognized by non-autistic, or neurotypical, people. They may dominate conversations, focusing on narrow topics of interest to them, not picking up on cues that others would like to speak or change the topic. Other language and communication related functional limitations that may be experienced include having a limited vocabulary, difficulty understanding variations in tone, and a tendency to take things literally that interferes with comprehension of metaphors, sarcasm, and irony (Bonnello, 2017; Murray, 2018). People with autism often also have difficulty reading body language and facial expressions.

Social norms can be difficult for people with autism to perceive and respond to. The unspoken rules of the workplace that everyone is expected to “just know” may be a complete mystery to them (Bonnello, 2017). This can negatively impact not just social inclusion but also job performance when task expectations and work standards are not clearly communicated. While people with autism feel the full range of emotions they may have trouble identifying specific emotions in themselves and others, which can also negatively influence social interactions. Many find maintaining eye contact and monitoring the facial expressions of others overwhelming from a sensory standpoint, which can lead to avoidance that is frequently mistaken for being anti-social (Beardon, 2017; Bonnello, 2018).

Beyond difficulty reading others, autistic people also face additional social challenges. Change can be extremely anxiety inducing for people with autism, who often prefer rigid schedules since predictability lessens sensory overloading. This may lead to challenging social behaviours if change happens unexpectedly. Similarly, heightened sensitivity to stimuli such as smells, tastes, sounds, and felt textures can lead to reactions that seem extreme to neurotypical people. A lack of understanding of those reactions often leads to people with autism being labelled “weird” or “difficult”, with the attendant social problems those negative labels create.

Common Strengths of Autistic Workers

Many people with autism find that, under the right conditions, they are able to focus intensively for long periods of time without getting distracted. If a particular topic interests them they will spend large amounts of personal time studying it and developing extensive expertise, which is often helpful in workplace contexts. Strong attention to detail is a common trait and many autistic people become technical experts in their respective fields (Beardon, 2017). Some people with autism enjoy repetitive routines and can tolerate work that others find unbearably monotonous. Others are especially creative, able to visualize solutions to complex problems and devise unique insights that are less accessible to neurotypical people (Bonnello, 2015). People with autism are also known for being direct and forthright communicators and are generally much less likely to engage in political gamesmanship and toxic impression management behaviours.

Accommodations for Autism

There are many potential accommodations for autism. Since functional limitations and severity levels are highly individual and their impacts are context-specific there is a heightened need to make customized plans in consultation with the affected party and to engage in on-going evaluation and tweaking as necessary. Accommodations tend to fall into three very broad categories: reduction of unnecessary or unwelcome stimuli, support for direct and clear communication, and assistance with social-emotional elements of work.

Reduction of Unwanted Stimuli

There are many ways to reduce unnecessary stimuli at work. Several examples are provided here but this should not be considered an exhaustive list of options. Solutions to reduce unwanted stimuli are limited only by the creativity of the problem-solvers.

Physical blocking of personal workspaces can reduce auditory and visual distractions. Examples include providing private offices with doors or cubicles that face a corner. Whenever possible florescent lights should be avoided since they are commonly cited as problematic by people with autism (LED lights are much better). Noise cancelling headphones can also be used, although some people with autism will not be able to tolerate the sensation of the headphones on their head. Similarly, standard uniforms can be a problem if the fabric is stiff or itchy, cuffs and collars are tight, or there are non-removable tags that irritate the skin. Some flexibility in wardrobe choice may be needed.

Moving beyond the physical, encouraging social norms that minimize interruptions can also help reduce excessive stimuli. For example, you could encourage the use of e-mail instead of phone calls between coworkers and ask people to use meeting rooms instead of hallways for conversations lasting more than a couple of minutes. Coworkers could be asked to schedule time to chat with a given employee instead of “popping in” with questions at random intervals.

Regardless of your efforts to reduce stimuli, workplaces may still overwhelm someone with autism on occasion. That is when a “quiet room” can be very beneficial to help someone calm themselves and return to a productive mindset. Quiet rooms are generally darkened rooms in a noise-free section of the workplace that contain comfortable furniture, perhaps soft calming music, and minimal other sources of stimulation. Spending several minutes in a quiet room helps people with autism cope when they become overwhelmed; non-autistic workers also report psychological benefits from such a space, including reductions in stress and anxiety (Beaver, 2011).

Support for Direct and Clear Communication

The communication and social difficulties experienced by people with autism are heavily intertwined. As such, resolving communication issues will also help with social difficulties. People with autism do not excel at “reading between the lines” or picking up on the unspoken rules of the workplace so it is very helpful to make unspoken norms explicit. Managers and supervisors should be trained to provide detailed instructions in writing and avoid ambiguity in task assignments, expected outputs, and the chain of command. Things that may seem obvious to a manager, such as how to prioritize multiple assignments or what someone is expected to do when they finish a given task, should be explicitly explained. Performance criteria should be clearly outlined and employees should be capable of monitoring their progress against performance goals. It is worth noting that taking these steps helps non-autistic workers too and represents well documented general best practices in management.

Workers with autism also report that their ability to communicate effectively is increased when they are able to see questions and prepare responses in advance, when people avoid jumping around between multiple topics in one conversation, and when their communication intent is not judged by conventional body language related criteria such as degree of eye contact or having the “right” facial expression (Beardon, 2017).

Assistance with Social and Emotional Aspects of Work

Even with the communication supports described previously workers with autism may find the social and emotional behaviours of others mystifying and may struggle to project a socially acceptable persona. This is generally not due to anti-social tendencies but difficulty reading cues and understanding how their own social cues are interpreted by others (Bonnello, 2018). A coach or mentor can be very helpful in this regard. That mentor could be an appropriately trained senior level co-worker or an outside expert. Being able to call on someone to help interpret social and emotional cues can not only improve communication and social outcomes, but it can significantly lessen stress and anxiety levels as well. The people who work most often with the individual with autism may also benefit from receiving formal information about autism and its impacts on communication in order to increase understanding and empathy. That said, such efforts can only be undertaken with the express permission of the individual with autism or in the context of broader generic diversity training initiatives due to privacy considerations.

Discussion Questions

Is Gwen legally and ethically entitled to disability accommodation(s) in this scenario? Why or why not? (4 marks)

What forms of accommodation might be useful in this scenario? Be specific and remember to address each of the challenges that Gwen faces that are related to her autism. Remember to consider each of the following: reduction of unnecessary stimuli, communication support, and assistance with social and emotional aspects of work. (8 marks)

How could accommodation strategies be evaluated to ensure that all the employee’s needs and all bona fide occupational requirements are being met? (3 marks)

How can management best address the bullying behaviour of George and create a workplace free of similar behaviour? (8 marks)

What other types of workplace interventions may be needed to make this a psychologically healthy, inclusive workplace for Gwen and other employees? (6 marks)

What, as a co-worker, is an appropriate social response to the stimming practices of autistic individuals in the workplace? (2 marks)

References

ADA National Network (2019) “What is the Definition of Disability Under ADA”, accessed May 2nd from https://adata.org/faq/what-definition-disability-under-ada.

Beardon, L. (2017). Autism and Asperger Syndrome in Adults, Sheldon Press, London, UK.

Beaver, C. (2011) “Designing Environments for Children and Adults on the Autism Spectrum”, Good Autism Practice, vol 12, no 1, p. 7-11.

Bonnello, Chris. (2015) “So…What’s It Like Being Autistic?” Blog retrieved Dec. 12, 2018 from autisticnotweird.com.

Bonnello, Chris. (2017) “Why Do Autistic People Struggle with Inappropriate?” Blog retrieved Dec. 12, 2018 from autisticnotweird.com.

Bonnello, Chris. (2018) “50 Important Facts About Mild Autism?” Blog retrieved Dec. 12, 2018 from autisticnotweird.com.

Canadian Human Rights Commission (2019) “What is the Duty to Accommodate:, accessed April 21st at https://www.chrc-ccdp.gc.ca/eng/content/what-duty-accommodate

Murray, Fergus. (2018) “Me and Monotrophism: A Unified Theory of Autism” The Psychologist, Nov. 30th, retrieved from https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/me-and-monotropismunifiedtheoryautism?fbclid=IwAR02fLCLSgAmjmmS9UQKALY5sdYe2rkJMQZx6bWqL2G23cCyMssmGnSMT0s

Ontario Human Rights Code (2019) “Discrimination Based on Disability and Duty to Accommodate”, accessed April 21, 2018 at http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/discrimination-based-disability-and-duty-accommodate-information-employers

Repa, B. (2019) “Your Right to a Reasonable Accommodation Under the ADA”, NOLO, accessed May 2nd https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/free-books/employee-rights-book/chapter7-8.html

Smorang, G. Gisser. (2019) “A Human Rights Overview”, presented at the Mel Myers Labour Conference, March 14, 2019, Winnipeg, Canada. [supanova_question]

Accommodating A Worker with Autism: A Call Centre Experience A Typical Day

Accommodating A Worker with Autism: A Call Centre Experience

A Typical Day

Gwen hung up the phone and quickly hit the “Not Ready” button before another customer could come through to her. She felt anxious and wound up, worried about what the next call would be and concerned about whether she was projecting the appropriate friendly, helpful tone that was expected from call centre employees. She could not afford any more customer complaints about being “cold” and “robotic”. Right now she needed a couple of minutes to just breathe and recover from the previous call and log the details into the company’s technical support call management system. All of which would be much easier if she could just get away from the damn florescent lights and the incessant noise created by her colleagues on their phone calls in adjacent cubicles. The harsh, flickering illumination of the lights combined with the constant background chatter often made her feel as if she needed a quick escape by lunchtime. While many employees complained about the noisy, overly crowded work environment and small cubicles, Gwen’s autism made her especially sensitive to its most challenging elements. The brimmed cap and sound cancelling phone headset she wore helped a little, but it was still a very distracting workplace (see Appendix B for more detailed information on the signs and symptoms of autism).

Gwen found herself wishing yet again that there was a dark and quiet place she could retreat to for even a few minutes, but the break rooms and cafeteria were just as crowded and busy as the cubicle areas and she could only hide in the bathroom so often without engendering gossip or disciplinary attention for taking excessive breaks. As far as she knew, everyone in her workplace hated the mandatory policy requiring that supervisors monitor bathroom break frequency and duration. She had spoken to people who were especially inconvenienced because of medical issues. That said, the policy had been introduced because some workers had been wasting time chatting for 10-15 minutes in the bathroom on a regular basis, so Gwen understood why the company had instituted a rule. She usually appreciated rules but this one just did not work for her.

Unable to escape physically, Gwen tried to take comfort by focusing on the customer she had just helped, logging all the details in the system. They had been trying to create a new database table but had forgotten to clarify the parent-child relationship it had with another table. Since updates made in the “parent” table (for example a new sale) did not get reflected in the “child” table (for example, inventory) important data for their home business had not been calculated accurately in the reports that were generated. It was typical of the type of problem her company’s customers had since many of them were creating their own small databases using the software without the benefit of any programming experience.

Gwen, who had a degree in Information Systems and was a certified database administrator, had worked in technical support for 10 months. She usually found customer’s problems easy to solve. She relished that she could help people while also solving puzzles all day long. Over time Gwen had distinguished herself for her creativity and persistence, and would often find solutions to problems after others had given up and moved on. Her supervisor was very pleased that Gwen’s notes (which were used for important trend analysis and customer care purposes), were always detailed and comprehensive. Some Technical Support Representatives rushed their notes, leaving them half complete. She had received kudos for her meticulousness and was even held up as an example for other, newly hired Technical Support Representatives to emulate.

That praise did not stop her from being anxious when she faced a live, real-time caller. She was always worried that the next call would be the one she could not handle. She sometimes struggled to determine when the customer was finished talking and she should start talking. She also worried that she would not have time to think through her answer to present it correctly, or that she would misunderstand the customer and embarrass herself, or that she would overlook some emotional cue and offend someone. She was sometimes accused of rudeness for reasons that were not clear to her. Several of her colleagues said she should just “smile more often” and “be nicer”. They assured her that her smile would “show right through the phone line”. She noticed that they never said similar things to her male co-workers, some of whom could also be quite direct in their communication style. The men around her were more likely to be called “efficient” rather than “rude”, which annoyed her since it seemed unfair. Appropriate communication was an on-going struggle that had been made much worse with her recent promotion to Tier Two Technical Support Representative.

A First Job: The Early Days

Once she had completed college Gwen had been excited to enter the working world. She applied for many jobs and found the interview process very difficult. Some of the questions asked seemed strange or irrelevant and her answers never seemed to be quite what people expected. Despite these challenges she ultimately landed a technical support role in the call centre. At first she worked as a Tier One Technical Support Representative. The Tier One role was considered the primary entry point into the organization – new employees generally started there fully expecting future promotions. People who had previously started as Tier One Representatives were now well represented in senior marketing, sales, and research and development roles. The ability to grow her skills, develop, and get promoted was one of the main reasons that Gwen accepted the job there. She found the role very easy but somewhat boring. Her technical and problem-solving skills were often underutilized. Tier One Representatives consisted of first-line workers who handled the simplest issues, responding to customers in writing over e-mail and instant messaging. Issues ranged from lost passwords to help interpreting standard error messages. Tier one problems could usually be resolved in just a few minutes using standard cut and paste advice from a prepared script, although occasionally more complex issues would come up. Even so, interactions with customers tended to be brief, straight-forward, and done in written formats that allowed time to reflect and double-check details before sending. Most customers were reasonably well-behaved, polite, and happy to have their questions promptly answered.

Gwen excelled as a Tier One Representative. She was able to quickly and competently determine the nature of a customer’s issue and gave clear, unambiguous, step-by step directions to solve it that even the least tech-savvy customers found easy to follow. She did so even when there was not a pre-existing script. She was conscientious about logging calls, which enabled managers to identify patterns in support needs and improve the product.

Gwen also got along well with most of her co-workers, even though she sometimes felt kind of awkward since she was one of only four women on a support team that numbered almost sixty. Sometimes conversations stopped abruptly the moment she entered a room and she was not sure why. She suspected it had something to do with her gender since the other three women reported similar experiences. It seemed most likely that her male colleagues had just been talking privately about women or dating and did not want to be overheard so she tried not to worry about it. Once she had gone out of her comfort zone and agreed to go out with members of the team for drinks after work. She had been embarrassed, however, to discover that the bar of choice was Hooters, a restaurant chain whose main claim to fame was the extremely tiny, tight shirts worn by young and buxom waitresses to enhance their figures. The name of the restaurant itself was slang for breasts. Gwen did not think her co-workers had meant anything by their restaurant choice – it was simply the nearest and most conveniently located bar. Even so, after listening to a few of her colleagues’ comments on the “attributes” of the wait staff she felt uncomfortable, left, and never went out at night with the team again.

Despite these social difficulties, Gwen generally got along well with others. She liked how her colleagues would often ask her advice when they had a new technical issue they could not figure out. They frequently told her how much they appreciated her help. She also enjoyed the Star Wars trivia game that she played with Michael, David, and Sanjay – her most immediate neighbours in the cubicles. They would all quiz each other during those rare times that the phones lines were slow. Even so, there had been a few awkward moments. David had asked her on dates three times and each time she had been embarrassed and hesitant around him for days after saying “no”. And once she made a joke that accidentally hurt Sanjay’s feelings. She’d had to apologize and explain that she hadn’t meant to offend. Mostly, though, things were fine, except for one employee named George. George had once told her that he did not think she had much potential since “chicks don’t do real tech support”. Michael and Sanjay had overheard and laughed but David had told him to be quiet and the incident ended there. George discovered early on that Gwen disliked other people touching her food containers in the fridge and he now took great pleasure in teasing her. Once he had even left a chocolate fingerprint and a jam smile emoticon on the outside top of Gwen’s lunch container. Gwen had thrown the food out and gone hungry that day, which George found hilarious. Gwen suspected that her co-workers thought George was being a jerk but also thought her response was extreme and weird, but she just could not bring himself to eat the food. After that incident she had started bringing lunches that did not need to be refrigerated but George still found subtle ways to tease her now and then when nobody else was looking, especially at company events and meetings where food was served.

A Promotion and A Problem

Gwen performed so well as a Tier One Representative that within eight months she was promoted to Tier Two. The promotion was awarded competitively based on her performance score. The score was derived from the most recent four months of data and was a combination of her customer satisfaction ratings, incident close percentage (also known as a “solve rate”), and the most recent quarterly assessment by her immediate supervisor. The quarterly assessments addressed performance indicators such as logging calls, being on time and reliable, responding appropriately to constructive feedback, and not engaging in problematic behaviours.

The Tier Two Technical Support Representative role was different in some key ways. Most importantly, the majority of the interactions were conducted over the phone rather than by instant message and e-mail. This was because customers were directed to a Tier Two Representative when their issues were slightly more complex, required detailed investigation, and could not be readily resolved in just a couple of minutes using standardized advice. The performance management system changed slightly to reflect this focus. Tier One Representatives’ most important metrics were number of issues resolved per hour, customer satisfaction rate as measured through a three question online survey, and thoroughness of call logs. The Tier Two representative were responsible for all of the same things, but also had their technical solutions randomly audited by supervisors to assess their effectiveness and efficiency, which were scored on ten point scales. Their customers received satisfaction surveys with six questions instead of three. The original three questions, common to both Tier One and Tier Two, asked if a solution was provided quickly, clearly, and whether it was effective. The additional three questions asked about general communication skills, friendliness, and ability to teach the customer how to prevent similar problems in the future. As such, social skills were more important to obtaining a high customer satisfaction rating for Tier Two Representatives.

For the most part Gwen still found the technical questions themselves fairy straight-forward. She would often have to investigate a bit, as she had with the customer having the issues with the parent-child relationships in their tables, but she had more than enough expertise to handle it. What she found challenging was the switch from primarily written to primarily verbal interactions. This was especially challenging when combined with the length of the interactions (calls generally took 20-45 minutes to resolve), and the emotional state of the customers. These customers tended to be more agitated, concerned, and worried than those with simple problems. In some cases they were panicked, fearing critical loss of data. As a result they could be sarcastic, difficult, aggressive, and irrational at a much higher rate than Tier One customers.

The new customer and call profile taxed Gwen. She disliked being on the phone since it did not give her time to reflect on her responses. She found herself becoming stressed out, worried she would say the wrong thing in the moment. She also found the duration and intensity of the social interaction itself somewhat overwhelming. Gwen no longer had a quick break between customers every few minutes. Sometimes this made her very anxious and she began to stim by repetitively lining up loose change found around her desk by size and denomination (see Appendix B for more information on stimming). The stimming made her feel better and did not disrupt her work. After a week and a half in the new role she even brought a large can of spare change from home and kept it at her desk to help her relax. Gwen noticed that Michael seemed to get disturbed by the noise of the clinking coins. He never said anything directly to her, but he sighed much more often and seemed to need frequent breaks when Gwen was stimming. Gwen tried to lessen the time she spent arranging the coins, limiting it to when she felt very stressed, but she was still using the coins frequently. She switched to plastic coins from a children’s game that belonged to her niece. They did not clink together in the same manner as metal coins, but were still soothing. It worked well. Michael went back to his usual break schedule and the deep sighs stopped. Then George noticed her coins. George immediately started making fun of the habit and now, every time he saw Gwen sorting coins, he would point it out loudly and call her weird. He sometimes called other workers weird too, but he seemed to do it more frequently with Gwen. Unfortunately, the mockery just created anxiety that made Gwen feel a greater need to stim so both the teasing and the stimming became more and more frequent. Between her anxiety, the non-stop background noise common to all call centers, the annoying florescent lights, and her co-worker teasing her, Gwen sometimes felt that she was ready to burst. When that feeling came over her she needed a few moments away from the noise and bustle so she would often be reduced to hiding in a bathroom stall, trying desperately to clear her head.

The promotion also taxed Gwen because of the sarcasm and unclear or exaggerated statements that her new customer base was prone to making. Since she began working on Tier Two problems there had been many small incidents in which a customer said something that was misunderstood or taken inappropriately literally by Gwen. This was more likely to happen since, unlike her Tier One role, she did not have time to reflect carefully about any secondary or indirect messages that might be embedded in the communication. Most incidents were inconsequential but some caused complaints or delayed identification of problems. For example, there had been several minutes of confusion when one client reported that data was “jumping”, by which he meant disappearing from a given field. Gwen has been completely mystified by the use of the term “jumping”, picturing two dimensional data moving continuously up and down on the screen. One angry women had told Gwen that she would be better off if her computer was thrown out the window and it had only further enraged her when Gwen had calmly explained why that would not help with her reporting problems. One of the worst experiences had been when a man had told her that “she was so useless she should call her Mom and apologize for being born”, which was followed by “can I talk to a REAL expert now?”. She had absolutely no idea how to react.

Other Tier Two Technical Support Representatives also dealt with difficult, ambiguous, or inappropriate customers. Two of her female colleagues had male customers ask if they could “speak to a man, someone who knew what he was doing”. Gwen had seen both male and female co-workers reduced to tears by abusive clients! The behaviour of customers, and how to deal with it, was a frequent topic of conversation in the break rooms. Her colleagues seemed to have many creative ideas for how to respond, although not all of them could actually be used if one wanted to stay employed. Gwen was amazed by their creativity. To her it seemed as if they had been given some secret rulebook. There were exceptions, some colleagues had bad days and told her that they left work upset, angry, or feeling depressed and lost. Gwen seemed to feel that way more frequently though, and more persistently, at least as far as she could tell.

Performance Problems

The moments of feeling overwhelmed and the communication issues were starting to impact Gwen’s job performance. Customers were routinely surveyed about their technical support experiences. In the two months since her promotion Gwen went from a five-star customer service rating (out of six) to a three-star rating. Ironically call ticket closure records showed that she was actually more effective at solving the technical problems than many of her peers. Her customer service ratings, however, were being impacted by her communication blunders and awkward misunderstandings. The Tier Two customer satisfaction survey, with its increased focus on communication skills, magnified the impact of these lapses. Since Gwen knew she was an otherwise strong worker she decided to sit down with her boss Jamie to discuss moving forward. She had not previously revealed that she was autistic, concerned about how it might impact her job prospects. Now she decided to reveal and explain her diagnosis. She decided to ask how her autism could be accommodated such that she could serve customers well, meet the mandate of her new role, develop her communication skills, and still maintain positive mental health and well-being. (For general information on the types of accommodations available for people with autism please see Appendix B.) She thought she should also bring up George – without George Gwen felt that her working life would be less stressful and she would be better able to manage all the other challenges she faced.

After meeting with Gwen to discuss these issues, reviewing the situation and the company’s legislative responsibilities (see Appendix A-1 for Canada, A-2 for US), and reading up on autism (see Appendix B), Gwen’s manager sought to decide how to handle Gwen’s request for accommodation. “This isn’t like the other disabilities I have accommodated in the past”. Jamie mused to their HR specialist. “It’s not as simple as building a ramp or buying a Braille reader. Is it even possible to accommodate autism in a call center setting, especially for this role? If so, how specifically do we do it? Will devices help or is more needed? Are our policies getting in the way? If so, are those policies actually useful? Do they impact other employees besides Gwen, and if so, could helping Gwen reduce stress by adjusting our policies help everyone else too?” “That is all important to consider”, responded the HR Specialist. She then added that “customer service ratings are important, but Gwen has a rare talent for problem-solving and technical innovation. I think those skills are critical for the company and we don’t want to lose them. Maybe there is another way to think about the Tier Two role itself, a modification that could make it easier for Gwen?” “Interesting”, said Jamie, “I will need to think about that. In the meantime, what do I do about George?”

Appendix A

Canadian Legislative Requirements and Workplace Accommodation

Please note that this information reflects a Canadian (Ontario) legal environment, which is where the case took place. Very similar legislation exists in other jurisdictions. See Appendix A-2 if applying this case to a US context. Key issues in disability law that are relevant include the following: definitions of disability, the concept of “duty to reasonably accommodate”, and the criteria for undue hardship used to determine if an employer is required to provide a requested accommodation.

Definition of disability

A legal definition of disability is presented in section 10(1) of the Ontario Human Rights Code. It states that disability means:

Any degree of physical disability, infirmity, malformation, or disfigurement that is caused by bodily injury, birth defect or illness and, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, includes diabetes mellitus, epilepsy, a brain injury, any degree of paralysis, amputation, lack of physical coordination, blindness or visual impediment, deafness or hearing impediment, muteness or speech impediment, or physical reliance on a guide dog or other animal or on a wheelchair or other remedial appliance or device,

a condition of mental impairment or a developmental disability,

a learning disability, or a dysfunction in one or more of the processes involved in understanding or using symbols or spoken language,

a mental disorder, or

an injury or disability for which benefits were claimed or received under the insurance plan established under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997.

Duty to reasonably accommodate

The Canadian Human Rights Commission states that “duty to reasonably accommodate” means that an employer must take all reasonable measures to enable a disabled employee to keep working. In addition to physical accommodations and technical devices, employers can also be required to amend job responsibilities and performance appraisal criteria. Employers are not able to deny promotions based on inability to perform a job due to disability without proving undue hardship. In order to do this a detailed medical assessment would be required that proves an individual cannot complete essential operational requirements of the job. Secondary aspects of the job are less relevant as employers are expected to reconfigure or redistribute these tasks (Canadian Human Rights Commission, 2019).

Criteria for undue hardship

Alberta Dairy Pool versus the Alberta Human Rights Commission (1990, 2.S.C.R. 489) established the criteria for undue hardship used to determine if an employer is required to provide a requested accommodation. The conditions for undue hardship include the following:

Excessive expenses will be incurred

Disrupts existing collective agreements

Creates morale problems with other employees

Have highly interchangeable work force/facilities

Have a very small operation

Safety concerns

Creating morale problems with other employees is the most difficult criteria to justify and, as a result of case precedents occurring after the 1990 decision, is seldom accepted in courts. The common legal understanding that has developed since 1990 suggests that morale is only relevant if an accommodation significantly interferes with the rights of other employees (Smorang snd Gisser, 2019).

Appendix B: An Autism Primer

What is Autism?

Autism is formally defined in medical diagnostic manuals as a developmental disorder, although it is more popularly termed a sensory disorder. The term autism is used to describe a range of conditions that are characterized by difficulties interpreting social and emotional cues and responding to those cues in the manner expected by other people, repetitive thoughts or behaviours, and heightened sensitivity to stimuli such as noise and touch. Language and communication skills may also be impacted (Beardon, 2017). Lack of empathy is frequently cited as an autistic trait. This characterization is hotly disputed by many members of the autistic community (see, for example Bonnello, 2015) and by emerging evidence from cognitive psychology. Both suggest that some autistic people may in fact suffer from excessive levels of empathy that overwhelm them, but that the way they express and communicate that empathy is not well understood or recognized by others (Murray, 2018; Beardon, 2017). Other traits often associated with autism include the ability to focus intensively on tasks, persistence, being detail-oriented, and being extremely forthright and direct in communications. The type and severity of symptoms can vary widely.

Autism and Stimming

One of the more visible signs of autism is repetitive behaviours known as stimming. Stimming activities may include anything from arm flapping, rocking, pacing, repeating certain words or phrases many times or continuously, or using devices such as fidget spinners. People with autism often report being overwhelmed by what they perceive as an onslaught of everyday stimuli (sounds, smells, visual distractions, etc.). The feeling of being overwhelmed induces anxiety and panic. Stimming is a way of retaking control of the situation and calming oneself by focusing on something specific to tone down the “noise” created by other stimuli (Beardon, 2017; Bonnello, 2018). Many people with autism report finding stimming socially embarrassing but critical to their ability to cope with overwhelming situations. As such, the lack of understanding and social acceptability of stimming can be a much greater disruption in the workplace than the activity itself, although in some cases co-workers may find specific stimming behaviours distracting or noisy.

Functional Limitations and Outward Behaviours Associated with Autism

The functional limitations associated with autism are highly individual and may change over time as task assignments, communication requirements, and social needs evolve in the workplace. Many of the barriers experienced by workers with autism relate to social difficulties and are impacted by how they behave (which is within their control), but also how others respond to them (which is not within their control). Stimming is a good example of this reality – the exact same behaviour can be perceived as harmless or disruptive depending largely on co-worker attitudes.

People with autism may speak in a monotone or speak unusually quickly. This can be mistaken for a lack of emotion, however people with autism do experience the full range of emotions, they simply tend to express those emotions in ways that are not readily recognized by non-autistic, or neurotypical, people. They may dominate conversations, focusing on narrow topics of interest to them, not picking up on cues that others would like to speak or change the topic. Other language and communication related functional limitations that may be experienced include having a limited vocabulary, difficulty understanding variations in tone, and a tendency to take things literally that interferes with comprehension of metaphors, sarcasm, and irony (Bonnello, 2017; Murray, 2018). People with autism often also have difficulty reading body language and facial expressions.

Social norms can be difficult for people with autism to perceive and respond to. The unspoken rules of the workplace that everyone is expected to “just know” may be a complete mystery to them (Bonnello, 2017). This can negatively impact not just social inclusion but also job performance when task expectations and work standards are not clearly communicated. While people with autism feel the full range of emotions they may have trouble identifying specific emotions in themselves and others, which can also negatively influence social interactions. Many find maintaining eye contact and monitoring the facial expressions of others overwhelming from a sensory standpoint, which can lead to avoidance that is frequently mistaken for being anti-social (Beardon, 2017; Bonnello, 2018).

Beyond difficulty reading others, autistic people also face additional social challenges. Change can be extremely anxiety inducing for people with autism, who often prefer rigid schedules since predictability lessens sensory overloading. This may lead to challenging social behaviours if change happens unexpectedly. Similarly, heightened sensitivity to stimuli such as smells, tastes, sounds, and felt textures can lead to reactions that seem extreme to neurotypical people. A lack of understanding of those reactions often leads to people with autism being labelled “weird” or “difficult”, with the attendant social problems those negative labels create.

Common Strengths of Autistic Workers

Many people with autism find that, under the right conditions, they are able to focus intensively for long periods of time without getting distracted. If a particular topic interests them they will spend large amounts of personal time studying it and developing extensive expertise, which is often helpful in workplace contexts. Strong attention to detail is a common trait and many autistic people become technical experts in their respective fields (Beardon, 2017). Some people with autism enjoy repetitive routines and can tolerate work that others find unbearably monotonous. Others are especially creative, able to visualize solutions to complex problems and devise unique insights that are less accessible to neurotypical people (Bonnello, 2015). People with autism are also known for being direct and forthright communicators and are generally much less likely to engage in political gamesmanship and toxic impression management behaviours.

Accommodations for Autism

There are many potential accommodations for autism. Since functional limitations and severity levels are highly individual and their impacts are context-specific there is a heightened need to make customized plans in consultation with the affected party and to engage in on-going evaluation and tweaking as necessary. Accommodations tend to fall into three very broad categories: reduction of unnecessary or unwelcome stimuli, support for direct and clear communication, and assistance with social-emotional elements of work.

Reduction of Unwanted Stimuli

There are many ways to reduce unnecessary stimuli at work. Several examples are provided here but this should not be considered an exhaustive list of options. Solutions to reduce unwanted stimuli are limited only by the creativity of the problem-solvers.

Physical blocking of personal workspaces can reduce auditory and visual distractions. Examples include providing private offices with doors or cubicles that face a corner. Whenever possible florescent lights should be avoided since they are commonly cited as problematic by people with autism (LED lights are much better). Noise cancelling headphones can also be used, although some people with autism will not be able to tolerate the sensation of the headphones on their head. Similarly, standard uniforms can be a problem if the fabric is stiff or itchy, cuffs and collars are tight, or there are non-removable tags that irritate the skin. Some flexibility in wardrobe choice may be needed.

Moving beyond the physical, encouraging social norms that minimize interruptions can also help reduce excessive stimuli. For example, you could encourage the use of e-mail instead of phone calls between coworkers and ask people to use meeting rooms instead of hallways for conversations lasting more than a couple of minutes. Coworkers could be asked to schedule time to chat with a given employee instead of “popping in” with questions at random intervals.

Regardless of your efforts to reduce stimuli, workplaces may still overwhelm someone with autism on occasion. That is when a “quiet room” can be very beneficial to help someone calm themselves and return to a productive mindset. Quiet rooms are generally darkened rooms in a noise-free section of the workplace that contain comfortable furniture, perhaps soft calming music, and minimal other sources of stimulation. Spending several minutes in a quiet room helps people with autism cope when they become overwhelmed; non-autistic workers also report psychological benefits from such a space, including reductions in stress and anxiety (Beaver, 2011).

Support for Direct and Clear Communication

The communication and social difficulties experienced by people with autism are heavily intertwined. As such, resolving communication issues will also help with social difficulties. People with autism do not excel at “reading between the lines” or picking up on the unspoken rules of the workplace so it is very helpful to make unspoken norms explicit. Managers and supervisors should be trained to provide detailed instructions in writing and avoid ambiguity in task assignments, expected outputs, and the chain of command. Things that may seem obvious to a manager, such as how to prioritize multiple assignments or what someone is expected to do when they finish a given task, should be explicitly explained. Performance criteria should be clearly outlined and employees should be capable of monitoring their progress against performance goals. It is worth noting that taking these steps helps non-autistic workers too and represents well documented general best practices in management.

Workers with autism also report that their ability to communicate effectively is increased when they are able to see questions and prepare responses in advance, when people avoid jumping around between multiple topics in one conversation, and when their communication intent is not judged by conventional body language related criteria such as degree of eye contact or having the “right” facial expression (Beardon, 2017).

Assistance with Social and Emotional Aspects of Work

Even with the communication supports described previously workers with autism may find the social and emotional behaviours of others mystifying and may struggle to project a socially acceptable persona. This is generally not due to anti-social tendencies but difficulty reading cues and understanding how their own social cues are interpreted by others (Bonnello, 2018). A coach or mentor can be very helpful in this regard. That mentor could be an appropriately trained senior level co-worker or an outside expert. Being able to call on someone to help interpret social and emotional cues can not only improve communication and social outcomes, but it can significantly lessen stress and anxiety levels as well. The people who work most often with the individual with autism may also benefit from receiving formal information about autism and its impacts on communication in order to increase understanding and empathy. That said, such efforts can only be undertaken with the express permission of the individual with autism or in the context of broader generic diversity training initiatives due to privacy considerations.

Discussion Questions

Is Gwen legally and ethically entitled to disability accommodation(s) in this scenario? Why or why not? (4 marks)

What forms of accommodation might be useful in this scenario? Be specific and remember to address each of the challenges that Gwen faces that are related to her autism. Remember to consider each of the following: reduction of unnecessary stimuli, communication support, and assistance with social and emotional aspects of work. (8 marks)

How could accommodation strategies be evaluated to ensure that all the employee’s needs and all bona fide occupational requirements are being met? (3 marks)

How can management best address the bullying behaviour of George and create a workplace free of similar behaviour? (8 marks)

What other types of workplace interventions may be needed to make this a psychologically healthy, inclusive workplace for Gwen and other employees? (6 marks)

What, as a co-worker, is an appropriate social response to the stimming practices of autistic individuals in the workplace? (2 marks)

References

ADA National Network (2019) “What is the Definition of Disability Under ADA”, accessed May 2nd from https://adata.org/faq/what-definition-disability-under-ada.

Beardon, L. (2017). Autism and Asperger Syndrome in Adults, Sheldon Press, London, UK.

Beaver, C. (2011) “Designing Environments for Children and Adults on the Autism Spectrum”, Good Autism Practice, vol 12, no 1, p. 7-11.

Bonnello, Chris. (2015) “So…What’s It Like Being Autistic?” Blog retrieved Dec. 12, 2018 from autisticnotweird.com.

Bonnello, Chris. (2017) “Why Do Autistic People Struggle with Inappropriate?” Blog retrieved Dec. 12, 2018 from autisticnotweird.com.

Bonnello, Chris. (2018) “50 Important Facts About Mild Autism?” Blog retrieved Dec. 12, 2018 from autisticnotweird.com.

Canadian Human Rights Commission (2019) “What is the Duty to Accommodate:, accessed April 21st at https://www.chrc-ccdp.gc.ca/eng/content/what-duty-accommodate

Murray, Fergus. (2018) “Me and Monotrophism: A Unified Theory of Autism” The Psychologist, Nov. 30th, retrieved from https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/me-and-monotropismunifiedtheoryautism?fbclid=IwAR02fLCLSgAmjmmS9UQKALY5sdYe2rkJMQZx6bWqL2G23cCyMssmGnSMT0s

Ontario Human Rights Code (2019) “Discrimination Based on Disability and Duty to Accommodate”, accessed April 21, 2018 at http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/discrimination-based-disability-and-duty-accommodate-information-employers

Repa, B. (2019) “Your Right to a Reasonable Accommodation Under the ADA”, NOLO, accessed May 2nd https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/free-books/employee-rights-book/chapter7-8.html

Smorang, G. Gisser. (2019) “A Human Rights Overview”, presented at the Mel Myers Labour Conference, March 14, 2019, Winnipeg, Canada.[supanova_question]

Accommodating A Worker with Autism: A Call Centre Experience A Typical Day

Accommodating A Worker with Autism: A Call Centre Experience

A Typical Day

Gwen hung up the phone and quickly hit the “Not Ready” button before another customer could come through to her. She felt anxious and wound up, worried about what the next call would be and concerned about whether she was projecting the appropriate friendly, helpful tone that was expected from call centre employees. She could not afford any more customer complaints about being “cold” and “robotic”. Right now she needed a couple of minutes to just breathe and recover from the previous call and log the details into the company’s technical support call management system. All of which would be much easier if she could just get away from the damn florescent lights and the incessant noise created by her colleagues on their phone calls in adjacent cubicles. The harsh, flickering illumination of the lights combined with the constant background chatter often made her feel as if she needed a quick escape by lunchtime. While many employees complained about the noisy, overly crowded work environment and small cubicles, Gwen’s autism made her especially sensitive to its most challenging elements. The brimmed cap and sound cancelling phone headset she wore helped a little, but it was still a very distracting workplace (see Appendix B for more detailed information on the signs and symptoms of autism).

Gwen found herself wishing yet again that there was a dark and quiet place she could retreat to for even a few minutes, but the break rooms and cafeteria were just as crowded and busy as the cubicle areas and she could only hide in the bathroom so often without engendering gossip or disciplinary attention for taking excessive breaks. As far as she knew, everyone in her workplace hated the mandatory policy requiring that supervisors monitor bathroom break frequency and duration. She had spoken to people who were especially inconvenienced because of medical issues. That said, the policy had been introduced because some workers had been wasting time chatting for 10-15 minutes in the bathroom on a regular basis, so Gwen understood why the company had instituted a rule. She usually appreciated rules but this one just did not work for her.

Unable to escape physically, Gwen tried to take comfort by focusing on the customer she had just helped, logging all the details in the system. They had been trying to create a new database table but had forgotten to clarify the parent-child relationship it had with another table. Since updates made in the “parent” table (for example a new sale) did not get reflected in the “child” table (for example, inventory) important data for their home business had not been calculated accurately in the reports that were generated. It was typical of the type of problem her company’s customers had since many of them were creating their own small databases using the software without the benefit of any programming experience.

Gwen, who had a degree in Information Systems and was a certified database administrator, had worked in technical support for 10 months. She usually found customer’s problems easy to solve. She relished that she could help people while also solving puzzles all day long. Over time Gwen had distinguished herself for her creativity and persistence, and would often find solutions to problems after others had given up and moved on. Her supervisor was very pleased that Gwen’s notes (which were used for important trend analysis and customer care purposes), were always detailed and comprehensive. Some Technical Support Representatives rushed their notes, leaving them half complete. She had received kudos for her meticulousness and was even held up as an example for other, newly hired Technical Support Representatives to emulate.

That praise did not stop her from being anxious when she faced a live, real-time caller. She was always worried that the next call would be the one she could not handle. She sometimes struggled to determine when the customer was finished talking and she should start talking. She also worried that she would not have time to think through her answer to present it correctly, or that she would misunderstand the customer and embarrass herself, or that she would overlook some emotional cue and offend someone. She was sometimes accused of rudeness for reasons that were not clear to her. Several of her colleagues said she should just “smile more often” and “be nicer”. They assured her that her smile would “show right through the phone line”. She noticed that they never said similar things to her male co-workers, some of whom could also be quite direct in their communication style. The men around her were more likely to be called “efficient” rather than “rude”, which annoyed her since it seemed unfair. Appropriate communication was an on-going struggle that had been made much worse with her recent promotion to Tier Two Technical Support Representative.

A First Job: The Early Days

Once she had completed college Gwen had been excited to enter the working world. She applied for many jobs and found the interview process very difficult. Some of the questions asked seemed strange or irrelevant and her answers never seemed to be quite what people expected. Despite these challenges she ultimately landed a technical support role in the call centre. At first she worked as a Tier One Technical Support Representative. The Tier One role was considered the primary entry point into the organization – new employees generally started there fully expecting future promotions. People who had previously started as Tier One Representatives were now well represented in senior marketing, sales, and research and development roles. The ability to grow her skills, develop, and get promoted was one of the main reasons that Gwen accepted the job there. She found the role very easy but somewhat boring. Her technical and problem-solving skills were often underutilized. Tier One Representatives consisted of first-line workers who handled the simplest issues, responding to customers in writing over e-mail and instant messaging. Issues ranged from lost passwords to help interpreting standard error messages. Tier one problems could usually be resolved in just a few minutes using standard cut and paste advice from a prepared script, although occasionally more complex issues would come up. Even so, interactions with customers tended to be brief, straight-forward, and done in written formats that allowed time to reflect and double-check details before sending. Most customers were reasonably well-behaved, polite, and happy to have their questions promptly answered.

Gwen excelled as a Tier One Representative. She was able to quickly and competently determine the nature of a customer’s issue and gave clear, unambiguous, step-by step directions to solve it that even the least tech-savvy customers found easy to follow. She did so even when there was not a pre-existing script. She was conscientious about logging calls, which enabled managers to identify patterns in support needs and improve the product.

Gwen also got along well with most of her co-workers, even though she sometimes felt kind of awkward since she was one of only four women on a support team that numbered almost sixty. Sometimes conversations stopped abruptly the moment she entered a room and she was not sure why. She suspected it had something to do with her gender since the other three women reported similar experiences. It seemed most likely that her male colleagues had just been talking privately about women or dating and did not want to be overheard so she tried not to worry about it. Once she had gone out of her comfort zone and agreed to go out with members of the team for drinks after work. She had been embarrassed, however, to discover that the bar of choice was Hooters, a restaurant chain whose main claim to fame was the extremely tiny, tight shirts worn by young and buxom waitresses to enhance their figures. The name of the restaurant itself was slang for breasts. Gwen did not think her co-workers had meant anything by their restaurant choice – it was simply the nearest and most conveniently located bar. Even so, after listening to a few of her colleagues’ comments on the “attributes” of the wait staff she felt uncomfortable, left, and never went out at night with the team again.

Despite these social difficulties, Gwen generally got along well with others. She liked how her colleagues would often ask her advice when they had a new technical issue they could not figure out. They frequently told her how much they appreciated her help. She also enjoyed the Star Wars trivia game that she played with Michael, David, and Sanjay – her most immediate neighbours in the cubicles. They would all quiz each other during those rare times that the phones lines were slow. Even so, there had been a few awkward moments. David had asked her on dates three times and each time she had been embarrassed and hesitant around him for days after saying “no”. And once she made a joke that accidentally hurt Sanjay’s feelings. She’d had to apologize and explain that she hadn’t meant to offend. Mostly, though, things were fine, except for one employee named George. George had once told her that he did not think she had much potential since “chicks don’t do real tech support”. Michael and Sanjay had overheard and laughed but David had told him to be quiet and the incident ended there. George discovered early on that Gwen disliked other people touching her food containers in the fridge and he now took great pleasure in teasing her. Once he had even left a chocolate fingerprint and a jam smile emoticon on the outside top of Gwen’s lunch container. Gwen had thrown the food out and gone hungry that day, which George found hilarious. Gwen suspected that her co-workers thought George was being a jerk but also thought her response was extreme and weird, but she just could not bring himself to eat the food. After that incident she had started bringing lunches that did not need to be refrigerated but George still found subtle ways to tease her now and then when nobody else was looking, especially at company events and meetings where food was served.

A Promotion and A Problem

Gwen performed so well as a Tier One Representative that within eight months she was promoted to Tier Two. The promotion was awarded competitively based on her performance score. The score was derived from the most recent four months of data and was a combination of her customer satisfaction ratings, incident close percentage (also known as a “solve rate”), and the most recent quarterly assessment by her immediate supervisor. The quarterly assessments addressed performance indicators such as logging calls, being on time and reliable, responding appropriately to constructive feedback, and not engaging in problematic behaviours.

The Tier Two Technical Support Representative role was different in some key ways. Most importantly, the majority of the interactions were conducted over the phone rather than by instant message and e-mail. This was because customers were directed to a Tier Two Representative when their issues were slightly more complex, required detailed investigation, and could not be readily resolved in just a couple of minutes using standardized advice. The performance management system changed slightly to reflect this focus. Tier One Representatives’ most important metrics were number of issues resolved per hour, customer satisfaction rate as measured through a three question online survey, and thoroughness of call logs. The Tier Two representative were responsible for all of the same things, but also had their technical solutions randomly audited by supervisors to assess their effectiveness and efficiency, which were scored on ten point scales. Their customers received satisfaction surveys with six questions instead of three. The original three questions, common to both Tier One and Tier Two, asked if a solution was provided quickly, clearly, and whether it was effective. The additional three questions asked about general communication skills, friendliness, and ability to teach the customer how to prevent similar problems in the future. As such, social skills were more important to obtaining a high customer satisfaction rating for Tier Two Representatives.

For the most part Gwen still found the technical questions themselves fairy straight-forward. She would often have to investigate a bit, as she had with the customer having the issues with the parent-child relationships in their tables, but she had more than enough expertise to handle it. What she found challenging was the switch from primarily written to primarily verbal interactions. This was especially challenging when combined with the length of the interactions (calls generally took 20-45 minutes to resolve), and the emotional state of the customers. These customers tended to be more agitated, concerned, and worried than those with simple problems. In some cases they were panicked, fearing critical loss of data. As a result they could be sarcastic, difficult, aggressive, and irrational at a much higher rate than Tier One customers.

The new customer and call profile taxed Gwen. She disliked being on the phone since it did not give her time to reflect on her responses. She found herself becoming stressed out, worried she would say the wrong thing in the moment. She also found the duration and intensity of the social interaction itself somewhat overwhelming. Gwen no longer had a quick break between customers every few minutes. Sometimes this made her very anxious and she began to stim by repetitively lining up loose change found around her desk by size and denomination (see Appendix B for more information on stimming). The stimming made her feel better and did not disrupt her work. After a week and a half in the new role she even brought a large can of spare change from home and kept it at her desk to help her relax. Gwen noticed that Michael seemed to get disturbed by the noise of the clinking coins. He never said anything directly to her, but he sighed much more often and seemed to need frequent breaks when Gwen was stimming. Gwen tried to lessen the time she spent arranging the coins, limiting it to when she felt very stressed, but she was still using the coins frequently. She switched to plastic coins from a children’s game that belonged to her niece. They did not clink together in the same manner as metal coins, but were still soothing. It worked well. Michael went back to his usual break schedule and the deep sighs stopped. Then George noticed her coins. George immediately started making fun of the habit and now, every time he saw Gwen sorting coins, he would point it out loudly and call her weird. He sometimes called other workers weird too, but he seemed to do it more frequently with Gwen. Unfortunately, the mockery just created anxiety that made Gwen feel a greater need to stim so both the teasing and the stimming became more and more frequent. Between her anxiety, the non-stop background noise common to all call centers, the annoying florescent lights, and her co-worker teasing her, Gwen sometimes felt that she was ready to burst. When that feeling came over her she needed a few moments away from the noise and bustle so she would often be reduced to hiding in a bathroom stall, trying desperately to clear her head.

The promotion also taxed Gwen because of the sarcasm and unclear or exaggerated statements that her new customer base was prone to making. Since she began working on Tier Two problems there had been many small incidents in which a customer said something that was misunderstood or taken inappropriately literally by Gwen. This was more likely to happen since, unlike her Tier One role, she did not have time to reflect carefully about any secondary or indirect messages that might be embedded in the communication. Most incidents were inconsequential but some caused complaints or delayed identification of problems. For example, there had been several minutes of confusion when one client reported that data was “jumping”, by which he meant disappearing from a given field. Gwen has been completely mystified by the use of the term “jumping”, picturing two dimensional data moving continuously up and down on the screen. One angry women had told Gwen that she would be better off if her computer was thrown out the window and it had only further enraged her when Gwen had calmly explained why that would not help with her reporting problems. One of the worst experiences had been when a man had told her that “she was so useless she should call her Mom and apologize for being born”, which was followed by “can I talk to a REAL expert now?”. She had absolutely no idea how to react.

Other Tier Two Technical Support Representatives also dealt with difficult, ambiguous, or inappropriate customers. Two of her female colleagues had male customers ask if they could “speak to a man, someone who knew what he was doing”. Gwen had seen both male and female co-workers reduced to tears by abusive clients! The behaviour of customers, and how to deal with it, was a frequent topic of conversation in the break rooms. Her colleagues seemed to have many creative ideas for how to respond, although not all of them could actually be used if one wanted to stay employed. Gwen was amazed by their creativity. To her it seemed as if they had been given some secret rulebook. There were exceptions, some colleagues had bad days and told her that they left work upset, angry, or feeling depressed and lost. Gwen seemed to feel that way more frequently though, and more persistently, at least as far as she could tell.

Performance Problems

The moments of feeling overwhelmed and the communication issues were starting to impact Gwen’s job performance. Customers were routinely surveyed about their technical support experiences. In the two months since her promotion Gwen went from a five-star customer service rating (out of six) to a three-star rating. Ironically call ticket closure records showed that she was actually more effective at solving the technical problems than many of her peers. Her customer service ratings, however, were being impacted by her communication blunders and awkward misunderstandings. The Tier Two customer satisfaction survey, with its increased focus on communication skills, magnified the impact of these lapses. Since Gwen knew she was an otherwise strong worker she decided to sit down with her boss Jamie to discuss moving forward. She had not previously revealed that she was autistic, concerned about how it might impact her job prospects. Now she decided to reveal and explain her diagnosis. She decided to ask how her autism could be accommodated such that she could serve customers well, meet the mandate of her new role, develop her communication skills, and still maintain positive mental health and well-being. (For general information on the types of accommodations available for people with autism please see Appendix B.) She thought she should also bring up George – without George Gwen felt that her working life would be less stressful and she would be better able to manage all the other challenges she faced.

After meeting with Gwen to discuss these issues, reviewing the situation and the company’s legislative responsibilities (see Appendix A-1 for Canada, A-2 for US), and reading up on autism (see Appendix B), Gwen’s manager sought to decide how to handle Gwen’s request for accommodation. “This isn’t like the other disabilities I have accommodated in the past”. Jamie mused to their HR specialist. “It’s not as simple as building a ramp or buying a Braille reader. Is it even possible to accommodate autism in a call center setting, especially for this role? If so, how specifically do we do it? Will devices help or is more needed? Are our policies getting in the way? If so, are those policies actually useful? Do they impact other employees besides Gwen, and if so, could helping Gwen reduce stress by adjusting our policies help everyone else too?” “That is all important to consider”, responded the HR Specialist. She then added that “customer service ratings are important, but Gwen has a rare talent for problem-solving and technical innovation. I think those skills are critical for the company and we don’t want to lose them. Maybe there is another way to think about the Tier Two role itself, a modification that could make it easier for Gwen?” “Interesting”, said Jamie, “I will need to think about that. In the meantime, what do I do about George?”

Appendix A

Canadian Legislative Requirements and Workplace Accommodation

Please note that this information reflects a Canadian (Ontario) legal environment, which is where the case took place. Very similar legislation exists in other jurisdictions. See Appendix A-2 if applying this case to a US context. Key issues in disability law that are relevant include the following: definitions of disability, the concept of “duty to reasonably accommodate”, and the criteria for undue hardship used to determine if an employer is required to provide a requested accommodation.

Definition of disability

A legal definition of disability is presented in section 10(1) of the Ontario Human Rights Code. It states that disability means:

Any degree of physical disability, infirmity, malformation, or disfigurement that is caused by bodily injury, birth defect or illness and, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, includes diabetes mellitus, epilepsy, a brain injury, any degree of paralysis, amputation, lack of physical coordination, blindness or visual impediment, deafness or hearing impediment, muteness or speech impediment, or physical reliance on a guide dog or other animal or on a wheelchair or other remedial appliance or device,

a condition of mental impairment or a developmental disability,

a learning disability, or a dysfunction in one or more of the processes involved in understanding or using symbols or spoken language,

a mental disorder, or

an injury or disability for which benefits were claimed or received under the insurance plan established under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997.

Duty to reasonably accommodate

The Canadian Human Rights Commission states that “duty to reasonably accommodate” means that an employer must take all reasonable measures to enable a disabled employee to keep working. In addition to physical accommodations and technical devices, employers can also be required to amend job responsibilities and performance appraisal criteria. Employers are not able to deny promotions based on inability to perform a job due to disability without proving undue hardship. In order to do this a detailed medical assessment would be required that proves an individual cannot complete essential operational requirements of the job. Secondary aspects of the job are less relevant as employers are expected to reconfigure or redistribute these tasks (Canadian Human Rights Commission, 2019).

Criteria for undue hardship

Alberta Dairy Pool versus the Alberta Human Rights Commission (1990, 2.S.C.R. 489) established the criteria for undue hardship used to determine if an employer is required to provide a requested accommodation. The conditions for undue hardship include the following:

Excessive expenses will be incurred

Disrupts existing collective agreements

Creates morale problems with other employees

Have highly interchangeable work force/facilities

Have a very small operation

Safety concerns

Creating morale problems with other employees is the most difficult criteria to justify and, as a result of case precedents occurring after the 1990 decision, is seldom accepted in courts. The common legal understanding that has developed since 1990 suggests that morale is only relevant if an accommodation significantly interferes with the rights of other employees (Smorang snd Gisser, 2019).

Appendix B: An Autism Primer

What is Autism?

Autism is formally defined in medical diagnostic manuals as a developmental disorder, although it is more popularly termed a sensory disorder. The term autism is used to describe a range of conditions that are characterized by difficulties interpreting social and emotional cues and responding to those cues in the manner expected by other people, repetitive thoughts or behaviours, and heightened sensitivity to stimuli such as noise and touch. Language and communication skills may also be impacted (Beardon, 2017). Lack of empathy is frequently cited as an autistic trait. This characterization is hotly disputed by many members of the autistic community (see, for example Bonnello, 2015) and by emerging evidence from cognitive psychology. Both suggest that some autistic people may in fact suffer from excessive levels of empathy that overwhelm them, but that the way they express and communicate that empathy is not well understood or recognized by others (Murray, 2018; Beardon, 2017). Other traits often associated with autism include the ability to focus intensively on tasks, persistence, being detail-oriented, and being extremely forthright and direct in communications. The type and severity of symptoms can vary widely.

Autism and Stimming

One of the more visible signs of autism is repetitive behaviours known as stimming. Stimming activities may include anything from arm flapping, rocking, pacing, repeating certain words or phrases many times or continuously, or using devices such as fidget spinners. People with autism often report being overwhelmed by what they perceive as an onslaught of everyday stimuli (sounds, smells, visual distractions, etc.). The feeling of being overwhelmed induces anxiety and panic. Stimming is a way of retaking control of the situation and calming oneself by focusing on something specific to tone down the “noise” created by other stimuli (Beardon, 2017; Bonnello, 2018). Many people with autism report finding stimming socially embarrassing but critical to their ability to cope with overwhelming situations. As such, the lack of understanding and social acceptability of stimming can be a much greater disruption in the workplace than the activity itself, although in some cases co-workers may find specific stimming behaviours distracting or noisy.

Functional Limitations and Outward Behaviours Associated with Autism

The functional limitations associated with autism are highly individual and may change over time as task assignments, communication requirements, and social needs evolve in the workplace. Many of the barriers experienced by workers with autism relate to social difficulties and are impacted by how they behave (which is within their control), but also how others respond to them (which is not within their control). Stimming is a good example of this reality – the exact same behaviour can be perceived as harmless or disruptive depending largely on co-worker attitudes.

People with autism may speak in a monotone or speak unusually quickly. This can be mistaken for a lack of emotion, however people with autism do experience the full range of emotions, they simply tend to express those emotions in ways that are not readily recognized by non-autistic, or neurotypical, people. They may dominate conversations, focusing on narrow topics of interest to them, not picking up on cues that others would like to speak or change the topic. Other language and communication related functional limitations that may be experienced include having a limited vocabulary, difficulty understanding variations in tone, and a tendency to take things literally that interferes with comprehension of metaphors, sarcasm, and irony (Bonnello, 2017; Murray, 2018). People with autism often also have difficulty reading body language and facial expressions.

Social norms can be difficult for people with autism to perceive and respond to. The unspoken rules of the workplace that everyone is expected to “just know” may be a complete mystery to them (Bonnello, 2017). This can negatively impact not just social inclusion but also job performance when task expectations and work standards are not clearly communicated. While people with autism feel the full range of emotions they may have trouble identifying specific emotions in themselves and others, which can also negatively influence social interactions. Many find maintaining eye contact and monitoring the facial expressions of others overwhelming from a sensory standpoint, which can lead to avoidance that is frequently mistaken for being anti-social (Beardon, 2017; Bonnello, 2018).

Beyond difficulty reading others, autistic people also face additional social challenges. Change can be extremely anxiety inducing for people with autism, who often prefer rigid schedules since predictability lessens sensory overloading. This may lead to challenging social behaviours if change happens unexpectedly. Similarly, heightened sensitivity to stimuli such as smells, tastes, sounds, and felt textures can lead to reactions that seem extreme to neurotypical people. A lack of understanding of those reactions often leads to people with autism being labelled “weird” or “difficult”, with the attendant social problems those negative labels create.

Common Strengths of Autistic Workers

Many people with autism find that, under the right conditions, they are able to focus intensively for long periods of time without getting distracted. If a particular topic interests them they will spend large amounts of personal time studying it and developing extensive expertise, which is often helpful in workplace contexts. Strong attention to detail is a common trait and many autistic people become technical experts in their respective fields (Beardon, 2017). Some people with autism enjoy repetitive routines and can tolerate work that others find unbearably monotonous. Others are especially creative, able to visualize solutions to complex problems and devise unique insights that are less accessible to neurotypical people (Bonnello, 2015). People with autism are also known for being direct and forthright communicators and are generally much less likely to engage in political gamesmanship and toxic impression management behaviours.

Accommodations for Autism

There are many potential accommodations for autism. Since functional limitations and severity levels are highly individual and their impacts are context-specific there is a heightened need to make customized plans in consultation with the affected party and to engage in on-going evaluation and tweaking as necessary. Accommodations tend to fall into three very broad categories: reduction of unnecessary or unwelcome stimuli, support for direct and clear communication, and assistance with social-emotional elements of work.

Reduction of Unwanted Stimuli

There are many ways to reduce unnecessary stimuli at work. Several examples are provided here but this should not be considered an exhaustive list of options. Solutions to reduce unwanted stimuli are limited only by the creativity of the problem-solvers.

Physical blocking of personal workspaces can reduce auditory and visual distractions. Examples include providing private offices with doors or cubicles that face a corner. Whenever possible florescent lights should be avoided since they are commonly cited as problematic by people with autism (LED lights are much better). Noise cancelling headphones can also be used, although some people with autism will not be able to tolerate the sensation of the headphones on their head. Similarly, standard uniforms can be a problem if the fabric is stiff or itchy, cuffs and collars are tight, or there are non-removable tags that irritate the skin. Some flexibility in wardrobe choice may be needed.

Moving beyond the physical, encouraging social norms that minimize interruptions can also help reduce excessive stimuli. For example, you could encourage the use of e-mail instead of phone calls between coworkers and ask people to use meeting rooms instead of hallways for conversations lasting more than a couple of minutes. Coworkers could be asked to schedule time to chat with a given employee instead of “popping in” with questions at random intervals.

Regardless of your efforts to reduce stimuli, workplaces may still overwhelm someone with autism on occasion. That is when a “quiet room” can be very beneficial to help someone calm themselves and return to a productive mindset. Quiet rooms are generally darkened rooms in a noise-free section of the workplace that contain comfortable furniture, perhaps soft calming music, and minimal other sources of stimulation. Spending several minutes in a quiet room helps people with autism cope when they become overwhelmed; non-autistic workers also report psychological benefits from such a space, including reductions in stress and anxiety (Beaver, 2011).

Support for Direct and Clear Communication

The communication and social difficulties experienced by people with autism are heavily intertwined. As such, resolving communication issues will also help with social difficulties. People with autism do not excel at “reading between the lines” or picking up on the unspoken rules of the workplace so it is very helpful to make unspoken norms explicit. Managers and supervisors should be trained to provide detailed instructions in writing and avoid ambiguity in task assignments, expected outputs, and the chain of command. Things that may seem obvious to a manager, such as how to prioritize multiple assignments or what someone is expected to do when they finish a given task, should be explicitly explained. Performance criteria should be clearly outlined and employees should be capable of monitoring their progress against performance goals. It is worth noting that taking these steps helps non-autistic workers too and represents well documented general best practices in management.

Workers with autism also report that their ability to communicate effectively is increased when they are able to see questions and prepare responses in advance, when people avoid jumping around between multiple topics in one conversation, and when their communication intent is not judged by conventional body language related criteria such as degree of eye contact or having the “right” facial expression (Beardon, 2017).

Assistance with Social and Emotional Aspects of Work

Even with the communication supports described previously workers with autism may find the social and emotional behaviours of others mystifying and may struggle to project a socially acceptable persona. This is generally not due to anti-social tendencies but difficulty reading cues and understanding how their own social cues are interpreted by others (Bonnello, 2018). A coach or mentor can be very helpful in this regard. That mentor could be an appropriately trained senior level co-worker or an outside expert. Being able to call on someone to help interpret social and emotional cues can not only improve communication and social outcomes, but it can significantly lessen stress and anxiety levels as well. The people who work most often with the individual with autism may also benefit from receiving formal information about autism and its impacts on communication in order to increase understanding and empathy. That said, such efforts can only be undertaken with the express permission of the individual with autism or in the context of broader generic diversity training initiatives due to privacy considerations.

Discussion Questions

Is Gwen legally and ethically entitled to disability accommodation(s) in this scenario? Why or why not? (4 marks)

What forms of accommodation might be useful in this scenario? Be specific and remember to address each of the challenges that Gwen faces that are related to her autism. Remember to consider each of the following: reduction of unnecessary stimuli, communication support, and assistance with social and emotional aspects of work. (8 marks)

How could accommodation strategies be evaluated to ensure that all the employee’s needs and all bona fide occupational requirements are being met? (3 marks)

How can management best address the bullying behaviour of George and create a workplace free of similar behaviour? (8 marks)

What other types of workplace interventions may be needed to make this a psychologically healthy, inclusive workplace for Gwen and other employees? (6 marks)

What, as a co-worker, is an appropriate social response to the stimming practices of autistic individuals in the workplace? (2 marks)

References

ADA National Network (2019) “What is the Definition of Disability Under ADA”, accessed May 2nd from https://adata.org/faq/what-definition-disability-under-ada.

Beardon, L. (2017). Autism and Asperger Syndrome in Adults, Sheldon Press, London, UK.

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